Story by Sgt. Phillip Valentine
311th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — The Army is looking to save money and the 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command is willing to oblige. The Operational Contract Support Section has a goal, and that goal is to help shave a billion dollars from contracting costs during their deployment to Afghanistan.
Combat units often have support needs that cannot be met through traditional military channels. When that happens, they submit a request for a contract to provide those needs. Since 2001, thousands of contracts costing billions of dollars have been approved in the Combined Joint Operating Area – Afghanistan.
The OCSS audits and reviews those contracts, looking for services that are no longer needed or unnecessary duplications. Before a contract can be approved, it must pass through the OCSS.
“In the end, it all comes down to the contract review board,” said Maj. John Bowker assigned to the 311th ESC’s OCSS. “We review the contract, see what is needed, is it the right price, and to fulfill the need of the contract.”
Due to the pace and tempo of combat missions, there was little scrutiny paid to the cost of contracts. When a need was presented, the contract was granted, said 1st Lt. Joseph Lebs, deputy OCSS assigned to the 311th ESC. Now, with redeployment of personnel and equipment and sequestration, budget cuts have forced the military to find ways to save taxpayers money.
According to Lebs, the previous mindset was to ask for as much as possible. The cost estimate would be higher to cover any unforeseen complications. This wasn’t considered an issue, because at the end of the contract, the unused funds would be returned to the government. The problem was, the money was unable to be used for anything else, until the contract was terminated. That could take a long time.
“Now the mindset is to get it as right as possible or even a little less, because you can come back and add money to a contract,” said Lebs. “It is easier to add money to the contract, depending on the amount then de-obligate money.”
The OCSS personnel, who currently maintain approximately 126 contracts, including one they are working on worth roughly $600 million, have stepped up and made it their responsibility to alleviate some of the burden. They work hand-in-hand with all levels of command and with other units to make the contracting process efficient and reliable.
“We’ve rebuilt a lot of bridges with other units,” said Lebs. “We cross talk and discuss, making sure we have what we need. It’s about cooperation - working together to achieve a mission, but sometimes it’s hard to give up a sense of ownership.”
The 311th ESC also scrutinizes future contract requirements, it conducts audits and reassesses current contracts to ensure the need is still there, the money is being utilized properly and make recommendations on changes that may be more efficient.
Development of a contract is not a quick process, sometimes taking up to a year to process and finalize depending on the cost of the contract and what resources are needed. There are also the different levels of approval that, although necessary, can make the process take longer.
OCSS not only has to keep its eye on current contracts, it has to plan and complete “just-in-case” contracts. These contracts have to be prepared in case an unforeseen problem happens with the primary contract. One difference is that no money is exchanged for services unless that emergency contract is initiated.
With all involved with the processes and the work that has to be completed, the 311th OCSS is ready for the daunting task.
“I’m glad with what we’ve done,” said Bowker. “But there is a lot more to be done. We feel we can pass off the mission to the incoming unit and they can take it into a new direction.”